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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 2

Product Evaluation

Another Look at the Pitney Bowes Universal Access Copier System

Photocopying today has become a part of virtually everyone's job. But what if you can't reach the buttons, can't read them, can't see them, or can't tell if the text is right-side up? Enter the Universal Access Copier System (UACS) by Pitney Bowes—one unique universal design solution, which we reevaluate here. How does the UACS do it? It incorporates speech recognition technology, a large touch-screen interface, a computer keyboard with voice output, braille labeling, and a control panel that is lower than conventional office copiers.

In 1999, an early production model of the UACS was evaluated by The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Reprints of the product evaluation are available from AFB's Information Center (phone: 800-AFB-LINE; e-mail: afbinfo@afb.net.

Voice Commands

What's special about the UACS? Whether you have difficulty using the control panel because you can't reach it, can't see it, or have difficulty reading or pressing buttons, the voice commands option can help you and is perhaps the most innovative feature. As soon as the UACS processes a voice command, it repeats the command and it reconfigures the touch screen. Before the voice commands can be used for the first time, users have to enroll (enter information to add a name to the roster of voice command users) and voice sample (give the UACS samples of his or her voice to train it to recognize voice commands)—both one-time-only procedures.

Voice sample involves repeating commands into the PC's microphone and takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Voice sampling by users who are blind is designed to be done with a headphone set. Users listen for a command and repeat it, speaking into the microphone. To provide the voice output of screen commands the UACS uses DECtalk Access32, a Sound Blaster sound card, and GW Micro's Window-Eyes screen reader. People with low vision who can see the screen repeat the commands as they appear on the screen.

What Has Changed?

Because the 1999 field test was conducted on an early production model, an operations manual was not available for use during the evaluation at that time, so the enrollment and voice sampling procedures had to be implemented by a Pitney Bowes representative. The purpose of this product evaluation is to take another look at the UACS, this time following the operations manual ourselves to enroll users and conduct voice sampling procedures.

We recommend that at least one staff person in an organization learn how to set up the voice recognition feature so that Pitney Bowes does not have to be called every time a new user is added to the roster. The manufacturer will provide technical support as needed and especially early on, but the manual is essential because new users are continually added over time and the process requires considerable attention to detail. A good UACS manual is a necessity.

Another reason to reevaluate the UACS is that it has been upgraded. According to Pitney Bowes, the voice enrollment process has been streamlined, and more voice output messages, such as error messages and instructional messages, have been added. These messages now have more explanatory content.

How We Evaluated

The second author of this product evaluation had not been involved with the 1999 evaluation and was totally unfamiliar with the UACS. He served as the evaluator, reading the operations manual and following instructions for enrolling and conducting voice sampling procedures for six users whose visual impairment required that they rely on speech output to read the screen. He is a first year engineering student who is sighted. Four of the six visually impaired users work in the AFB Information Center. All but one participated in the earlier evaluation and had experienced enrollment and voice sampling during the 1999 field test. The four Information Center staff were debriefed after having two weeks to try the UACS.

Can You Figure It Out?

The manual is available in large print and on disk. Although it is rich in detail, we have three criticisms of it. First, it could provide more overview information to help orient the user. For instance, the manual gives the keystroke detail for adding a new user, but it doesn't tell you that what you are doing is creating two user databases: one is a list of user names and the other is every user's voice samples.

Second, the manual should emphasize three corrective commands that are used during voice sampling. Since the blind user is listening to synthetic speech through earphones, there will always be instances of mishearing a word. The UACS also mishears a word now and then. The commands to deal with these problems are "said-wrong," which repeats the word; "skip-next," which is used when the word was said correctly but the UACS thought it was said incorrectly; and "pause," which is needed to halt the voice sampling for an explanation or a break. We found that to be successful at voice sampling, these three commands must be understood and used instinctively by the person conducting the training.

Finally, the manual's organization should be more logical. It would be easier to understand if topics were introduced in the sequence they are used; for example, the section on changing the user name should be discussed earlier because it is often the first command a user must execute, and the section on the proper shut down sequences of the PC should be moved towards the end of the manual.

"You Say Tomato … "

After the evaluator read and understood the manual, he enrolled and voice-sampled himself and a colleague. After that the enrollment and voice sampling of the blind users went smoothly. In fact, in all cases, voice sampling took less time and required less repeat sampling of words than in 1999. To a certain extent, the improved performance can be attributed to the fact that all but one of the users had experienced voice sampling in 1999. But, it was obvious that the UACS was also performing much more efficiently than the 1999 version. It was also quite apparent that the enrollment process had been streamlined.

We noticed that there is a time lag between when a word is first displayed on the screen and when it is spoken by Window-Eyes. Periodically, Window-Eyes does not keep up with the next word displayed on the screen. Once the problem is detected it is possible to get back in sync by simply using the pause command followed by the continue command. But, if you are a blind person conducting voice sampling or training another blind person, you can't see the problem on the screen.

What Do the Users Think of the UACS?

As in 1999, the users were very positive about the UACS. The blind users said that when they needed to make a photocopy, they would have to ask a sighted colleague to do it for them. Now that they can use the UACS, they feel more self-reliant and expect to do more photocopying.

The low vision user stated that she periodically does need to do an extensive amount of photocopying, and, when she does, the UACS enables her to do her job more efficiently. She further stated that the present version of UACS was responding better to her voice commands than the 1999 version did. She too appreciated the fact that the UACS makes her more self-reliant.

What Do We Think?

The new UACS is better than the 1999 version. The voice recognition feature is easier to set up than the previous version, and users report that it responds better to voice commands. As is so often the case with computer-related technology, the operations manual could be improved. In particular, the instructions for conducting voice sampling could be revised and enhanced so that it is easier to learn and so that blind persons could conduct the training. Overall, we remain positive about the UACS and its potential to provide access to photocopying for blind and visually impaired persons in the office setting.

Manufacturer's Comments

"Thank you for the fair and objective evaluation. We will be working on improving the manual."

Product Information

Universal Access Copier System (UACS)

Manufacturer: Pitney Bowes; Office Systems Division; 100 Oakview Drive; Trumbull, CT 06611-4724; phone: 800-290-7860; fax: 800-446-0760; Web site: www.pb.com. Price: Starting at $4,895 for the copier and $15,995 for the PC interface unit. A system can be leased for various terms.

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